Thursday, July 21, 2011- you are getting this late, there was no internet in Bwiam.
Day 13. 25km. 331 km achieved!
Bwiam Lodge. 4:00pm. Too hot to sleep. Would run an extra 25km to have electricity before 6pm and for longer than 6 hours.
The team loves my analogy of tying a rope to the runner next to you and letting him/her pull you along. Today the rope is strong and the rope is tight.
Bwiam, our man Kebba’s village, was on the map today. Kebba’s 3 sons: Lamin (15yrs), Seko (13 years) and Sheikh (11 yrs) live in Bwiam with their grandmother where they attend school. Kebba, Spider and I began today’s run together know that we would hit Bwiam around 10km. Kebba said that his boys were excited about the Love4Gambia run but that he hoped that they were in school like they were supposed to be (this is that last week of class in The Gambia).
As we approached Bwiam, we saw Kebba’s kids walking towards us. It was a lovely sight. I think that Kebba’s desire to have them in school quickly dissolved as we neared them. Smiling hugely, they began to run with us. His kids are gorgeous. They are miniature Kebbas. Same charming smile. Same laugh. We were also joined by Kebba’s nephews Lamin, aka “More Fire,” age 6 and Sam age 15 and a friend, Mohammed.
After a full kilometer of running with our 6 newest Love4Gambia teammates, I asked Kebba if we had passed his compound- wondering if the kids were just running home. He replied, “Yes, we passed it. Are you worried about the kids?” I said, “No way, they are not my worry, their Daddy is with them!” Kebba says the boys are fine.
And boy, were they ever fine. They were fueled by happiness and excitement- seeing Daddy after more than 2 weeks. They ran easily next to us. We ran 9 abreast, taking up the whole road. Two kilometers passed. I watched with amazement. I am a youth coach and I’ve never witnessed such beautiful form in a group of young people. They ran quietly, soft on the balls of their feet, arms in perfect position, heads held high and proud. I wished that Cliff could see them. None of them had sneakers on. We learned later than Kebba’s sons were so excited to hear that Daddy was approaching that they ran out of the house with plastic sandals/flip flops on.
We approached 3km with the boys. Little “More Fire” had the most perfect form of them all but he was growing tired. He had also taken off his flip flops and was running barefoot. Little Sheikh, age 11, noticed his cousin was tired. So Sheikh reached out his hand and grabbed More Fire’s hand. Sheikh pulled him out front, just slightly ahead of the rest of us. And that’s where they ran, hand in hand. It was one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen while running.
We stopped to drink 3.5 km into our run with the Suso kids and Kebba put More Fire into the truck with Pa. This tiny 6 year old boy ran 3.5km for Love4Gambia.
The rest of us continued. We put Sheikh into the truck after he ran 5.5km. Yes, you are reading this correctly. Kebba’s 11 year old son ran more than 5km today.
When the day ended, Kebba’s 13 year old middle son, Seku, had run 11.5km. Lamin, Sam and Muhammed, the big boys at 15 years old, all ran 14km.
Ashley wasn’t feeling well today so we left her at Bwiam Lodge and continued the last 15km without her. We established the plan to leave her there first thing this morning. It must be a sign of a strong team that we all felt a little down without our full team intact. We were all a little sad today. I was feeling particularly fatigued in the legs. This was my 6th day running in a row. My legs match my mood out here in The Gambia. When the Suso kids joined us, my legs stopped complaining and I was able to run comfortably.
I had the most intense “I don’t want to” feeling that I’ve had before our second 5k run today. Part of my brain was trying desperately to hit the “off” switch- to cease running operation. I knew that I would do it, I just didn’t want to. I didn’t have my Ashley next to me and I keenly felt her absence. But I looked at the kids and I put my shoes back on and I tied my rope around them and I did it.
Ashley is on the mend, no worries. I am a runner, coach and nurse.
And I am also a woman which has been on my mind since beginning this run. Many Gambians’ reaction to Love4Gambia is “HER?!” along with “a woman can do that!?”
The Gambia is a society traditionally dominated by males and the nation is making great progress towards gender equity. But like many nations, progress travels at its own speed. In sport, the gender gap is visible. Football is a man’s world. The local races feature a shorter distance for women. Boys are more willing to join our run that young girls are.
During certain moments, I can actually see progress. Maybe this is why the grandmamas greet me so joyfully on the road. Maybe they’ve been waiting a long time for a woman to do it.
We ran through the village of Nyoro Jataba, just before Kalagi this week and a group of boys and girls joined us to run about 600m. A pretty little girl, about 6 years old, began to run next me. I often weave through these groups of kids and did so on this day but this pretty little girl followed me so that she could stay next to me. I’ll never forget what she looked like: green and yellow dress, plastic sandals, hair in little braids like the crown of the Statue of Liberty. She was looking up at me with an expression that I can’t do justice in words. But it was along the lines of, “wow, a girl can do this.” I hope she remembers our run together as she grows up in this society where the balance tips to male. A woman can do it.
Small things can make such a big impact on you.
This week, during a recovery run, I stopped running at 3km and I walked to cool down. I was walking along the last farm in the village when I heard “How are you?” from across the farm field. There was no toubab… just “How are you?” I replied, “I’m fine, how are you?” The little girl yelled back, “Good!” At that point I had just finished the bottle of water I was drinking. I held it up and said, “Do you want the bottle?” The little girl ran so excitedly, giggling and shrieking in delight to come and fetch it that I developed a huge pang of sadness and guilt in my heart.
In Canada, it would be extremely insulting to offer anyone, in any social situation, an empty plastic bottle. Here, this sweet little girl greeted me so politely, took the bottle and said “Thank you!” She didn’t have enough English to understand when I asked her name, but she smiled brightly, showed me the seeds she was carrying in her shirt and said “Couscous!” I left her behind to continue planting her couscous seeds as I tried not to cry. These are the type of things that make a trip like this change you.